Mind, Materialism, and the Fate of Man
The first five lectures in this series will be on philosophy, not on economics. Philosophy is important because everybody, whether or not he knows it, has a definite philosophy, and his philosophical ideas guide his actions.
The philosophy of today is that of Karl Marx [1818–1883]. He is the most powerful personality of our age. Karl Marx and the ideas of Karl Marx—ideas which he did not invent, develop, or improve, but which he combined into a system—are widely accepted today, even by many who emphatically declare that they are anti-communist and anti-Marxist. To a considerable extent, without knowing it, many people are philosophical Marxists, although they use different names for their philosophical ideas.
Marxists today speak of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. Volumes are written today in Russia about the contributions of [Vladimir Ilyich] Lenin [1870–1924] and [Josef] Stalin [1879–1953]. Yet the system remains what it was in the days of Karl Marx; Marxism is in effect petrified. Lenin contributed only very strong invectives against his adversaries; Stalin contributed nothing. Thus, it is questionable to call any of these contributions “new,” when we realize that the most important contribution of Marx to this philosophy was published in 1859.
It takes a long time for ideas to conquer the world. When Marx died in 1883, his name was by and large unknown. A few newspapers reported in a couple of lines that Karl Marx, the author of various books, had died. Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk [1851–1914] published a critique of Marx’s economic ideas in 1896, but it was only 20 years later that people began to consider Marx a philosopher.
The ideas of Marx and of his philosophy truly dominate our age. The interpretation of current events and the interpretation of history in popular books, as well as in philosophical writings, novels, plays, and so forth, are by and large Marxist. At the center is the Marxian philosophy of history. From this philosophy is borrowed the term “dialectical,” which is applied to all his ideas. But this is not so important as it is to realize what Marxist materialism means.
Materialism has two different meanings. The first refers exclusively to ethical problems. A material man is interested only in material things—food, drink, shelter—not in art, culture, and so forth. In this sense, the majority of men are materialists. The second meaning of materialism refers to a special group of solutions proposed to a basic philosophical problem—the relation between the human mind or soul on the one side, and the human body and the physiological functions of the body on the other side. Various answers to this problem have been offered—among them religious answers. We know very well that there is a connection between body and mind; surgery has proved that certain damages to the brain bring about certain changes in the function of the human mind. However, materialists of this second variety explain all manifestations of the human mind as products of the body.
Among these philosophical materialists, there are two schools of thought:
A. One school considers man as a machine. This machine variety of materialists say these problems are very simple—the human “machine” works precisely as any other machine works. A Frenchman, Julien de La Mettrie [1709–1751], wrote a book containing this idea, Man, the Machine; and today many people still want to explain all operations of the human mind, directly or indirectly, as if they were mechanical operations. For instance, see the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. One of the contributors, a teacher at the New School for Social Research, says the newborn child is like a Ford car, ready to run. Perhaps! But a machine, a newborn Ford, does not run by itself. A machine doesn’t achieve anything, doesn’t do anything alone—it is always men or a number of men who achieve something by means of the machine. Someone must run the machine. If the operation of the man ceases, the operation of the machine ceases too. We must ask this professor of the New School for Social Research, “Who runs the machine?” The answer would destroy the materialist machine doctrine.
People also talk sometimes about “feeding” the machine, as if it were alive. But, of course, it isn’t alive. Then too people sometimes say the machine suffers a “nervous breakdown.” But how can an object without nerves suffer a nervous breakdown? This machine doctrine has been repeated again and again, but it is not very realistic. We don’t have to deal with it because no serious men really believe it.
B. The physiological doctrine put forth by the second class of materialists is more important. This doctrine was formulated in a primitive way by Ludwig Feuerbach [1804–1872] and Karl Vogt [1817–1895] in the early days of Karl Marx. This idea was that thoughts and ideas are “simply” secretions of the brain. (No materialist philosopher ever fails to use the world “simply.” That means, “I know, but I can’t explain it.”) Today scientists know that certain pathological conditions cause certain secretions, and that certain secretions cause certain activities in the brain. But these secretions are chemically the same for all people in the same situation and condition. However, ideas and thoughts are not the same for all people in the same situation and condition; they are different.
First, ideas and thoughts are not tangible. And second, the same external factors do not produce the same reaction with everybody. An apple once fell from a tree and hit a certain young man [Isaac Newton]. This may have happened to many other young men before, but this particular happening challenged this particular young man and he developed some ideas from it.
But people do not always have the same thoughts when they are presented with the same facts. For instance, in school some learn; some don’t. There are differences in men.
Bertrand Russell [1872–1970] asked, “What is the difference between men and stones?” He said there was no difference except that men react to more stimuli than do stones. But actually there is a difference. Stones react according to a definite pattern which we can know; we can anticipate what will happen to a stone if it is treated in a certain way. But men don’t all react the same way when treated a certain way; we cannot establish such categories of actions for men. Thus, even though many people think physiological materialism is a solution, it actually leads to a dead end. If it were really the solution to this problem, it would mean that in any event we could know the way everyone would react. We cannot even imagine what the consequences would be if everybody knew what everybody else was going to do.
Karl Marx was not a materialist in the first sense—the machine sense. But the physiological idea was very popular in his day. It is not easy to know exactly what influenced Marx because he had personal hatreds and envies. Karl Marx hated Vogt, the exponent of physiological materialism. As soon as materialists like Vogt began to talk politics, Karl Marx said they had bad ideas; that meant Marx didn’t like them.
Marx developed what he thought was a new system. According to his materialist interpretation of history, the “material productive forces” (this is an exact translation of the German) are the bases of everything. Each stage of the material productive forces corresponds to a definite stage of production relations. The material productive forces determine the production relations, that is, the type of ownership and property which exists in the world. And the production relations determine the superstructure. In the terminology of Marx, capitalism or feudalism are production relations. Each of these was necessarily produced by a particular stage of the material productive forces. In 1859, Karl Marx said a new stage of material productive forces would produce socialism.
But what are these material productive forces? Just as Marx never said what a “class” was, so he never said exactly what the “material productive forces” are. After looking through his writings we find that the material productive forces are the tools and machines. In one of his books [Misère de la philosophie—The Poverty of Philosophy], written in French in 1847, Marx said “the hand mill produces feudalism—the steam mill produces capitalism.” He didn’t say it in this book, but in other writings he wrote that other machines will come which will produce socialism.
Marx tried hard to avoid the geographical interpretation of progress, because that had already been discredited. What he said was that “tools” were the basis of progress. Marx and [Friedrich] Engels [1820–1895] believed that new machines would be developed which would lead to socialism. They rejoiced at every new machine, thinking that meant socialism was just around the corner. In the French book of 1847, he criticized those who attached importance to the division of labor; he said the important thing was the tools.
We must not forget that tools don’t fall from heaven. They are the products of ideas. To explain ideas, Marx said the tools, the machines—the material productive forces—reflect themselves in the brains of men and in this way ideas come. But the tools and machines are themselves the product of ideas. Also, before there can be machines, there must be division of labor. And before there can be division of labor, definite ideas must be developed. The origin of these ideas cannot be explained by something which is possible only in a society, which is itself the product of ideas.
The term “material” fascinated people. To explain changes in ideas, changes in thoughts, changes in all those things which are the products of ideas, Marx reduced them to changes in technological ideas. In this he was not original. For example, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz [1821–1894] and Leopold von Ranke [1795–1886] interpreted history as the history of technology.
It is the task of history to explain why definite inventions were not put into practice by people who had all the physical knowledge required for their construction. Why, for instance, did the ancient Greeks, who had the technical knowledge, not develop railroads?
As soon as a doctrine becomes popular, it is simplified in such a way as to be understood by the masses. Marx said everything depends on economic conditions. As he stated in his 1847 French book [The Poverty of Philosophy], he meant that the history of factories and tools developed independently. According to Marx, the whole movement of human history appears as a corollary to the development of the material productive forces, the tools. With this development of tools, the construction of society changes and as a consequence everything else changes too. By everything else, he meant the superstructure. Marxian authors, writing after Marx, explained everything in the superstructure as due to definite changes in the production relations. And they explained everything in the production relations as due to changes in the tools and machines. This was a vulgarization, a simplification, of the Marxian doctrine for which Marx and Engels were not completely responsible. They created a lot of nonsense, but they are not responsible for all the nonsense today.
What is the influence of this Marxian doctrine on ideas? The philosopher René Descartes [1596–1650], who lived in the early seventeenth century, believed that man had a mind and that man thinks, but that animals were merely machines. Marx said, of course, Descartes lived in an age in which the “Manufakturperioden,” the tools and machines, were such that he was forced to explain his theory by saying that animals were machines. Albrecht von Hailer [1708–1777], a Swiss, said the same thing in the eighteenth century (he didn’t like liberal government’s equality under law). Between these two men, lived de La Mettrie, who also explained man as a machine. Therefore, Marx’s concept that ideas were a product of the tools and machines of a particular era is easily disproved.
John Locke [1632–1704], the well-known philosopher of empiricism, declared that everything in men’s minds comes from sensual experience. Marx says John Locke was a spokesman for the class doctrine of the bourgeoisie. This leads to two different deductions from the writings of Karl Marx: (1) The interpretation he gave to Descartes is that he was living in an age when machines were introduced and, therefore, Descartes explained the animal as a machine; and (2) The interpretation he gave to John Locke’s inspiration—that it came from the fact that he was a representative of bourgeois class interests. Here are two incompatible explanations for the source of ideas. The first of these two explanations, to the effect that ideas are based on material productive forces, the tools and machines, is irreconcilable with the second, namely that class interests determine ideas.
According to Marx, everybody is forced—by the material productive forces—to think in such a way that the result shows his class interests. You think in the way in which your “interests” force you to think; you think according to your class “interests.” Your “interests” are something independent of your mind and your ideas. Your “interests” exist in the world apart from your ideas. Consequently, the production of your ideas is not truth. Before the appearance of Karl Marx, the notion of truth had no meaning for the whole historical period. What the thinking of the people produced in the past was always “ideology,” not truth.
“Les idéologues” in France were well advertised by Napoleon [1769–1821], who said everything would be all right in France but for these “idéologues.” In 1812, Napoleon was defeated. He left the army in Russia, returned alone, incognito, and appeared at the end of December 1812 in Paris. He blamed the evils that happened to his country on the bad “idéologues” which influenced the country.
Marx used ideology in a different sense. According to Marx, ideology was a doctrine thought out by members of a class. These doctrines were necessarily not truths, but merely the expressions of the interests of the class concerned. Of course, one day there will be a classless society. One class—the proletarian class—prepares the way for the classless society. The truth of today is the idea of the proletarians. The proletarians will abolish all classes and then will come the Golden Age, the classless society.
Marx called Joseph Dietzgen [1828–1888] a proletarian, but Marx would have called him a petty bourgeois if he had known more about him. Officially Marx approved all the ideas of Dietzgen, but in his private correspondence with Ferdinand Lassalle [1825–1864] he expressed some disagreement. There is no universal logic. Every class has its own logic. But, of course, the logic of the proletariat is already the true logic of the future. (These people were offended when the racists took over the same ideas, claiming that the various races have different logics but the logic of the Aryans is the true logic.)
Karl Mannheim’s [1893–1947] sociology of knowledge grew out of Hitler’s ideas. Everybody thinks in ideologies—i.e., false doctrines. But there is one class of men which enjoys a special privilege—Marx called them the “unattached intellectuals.” These “unattached intellectuals” have the privilege of discovering truths which are not ideology.
The influence of this idea of “interests” is enormous. First of all, remember that this doctrine doesn’t say men act and think according to what they consider to be their interests. Secondly, remember that they consider “interests” as independent of the thoughts and ideas of men. These independent interests force men to think and to act in a definite way. As an example of the influence this idea has on our thinking today, I might mention a U.S. Senator—not a Democrat—who said that people vote according to their “interests”; he didn’t say in accordance with what they think to be their interests. This is Marx’s idea—assuming that “interests” are something definite and apart from a person’s ideas. This idea of class doctrine was first developed by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto.
Neither Engels nor Marx was of the proletariat. Engels was very wealthy. He hunted for fox in a red coat—this was the pastime of the rich. He had a girlfriend he considered too far beneath him to think of marrying. She died, and her sister became her successor. He finally married the sister, but just as she was dying—only two days before her death.
Karl Marx never made much money himself. He received some money as a regular contributor to The New York Tribune. But he was almost completely supported by his friend Engels. Marx was not a proletarian; he was the son of a well-to-do lawyer. His wife, Mrs. Karl Marx [Jenny von Westphalen, 1814–1881], was the daughter of a high Prussian Junker. And Marx’s brother-in-law was the head of the Prussian police.
Thus, these two men, Marx and Engels, who claimed that the proletarian mind was different from the mind of the bourgeoisie, were in an awkward position. So they included a passage in the Communist Manifesto to explain: “When the time comes, some members of the bourgeoisie join the rising classes.” However, if it is possible for some men to free themselves from the law of class interests, then the law is no longer a general law.
Marx’s idea was that the material productive forces lead men from one stage to another, until they reach socialism, which is the end and the height of it all. Marx said socialism cannot be planned in advance; history will take care of it. In Marx’s view, those who say how socialism will work are just “utopians.”
Socialism was already defeated intellectually at the time Marx wrote. Marx answered his critics by saying that those who were in opposition were only “bourgeois.” He said there was no need to defeat his opponents’ arguments, but only to unmask their bourgeois background. And as their doctrine was only bourgeois ideology, it was not necessary to deal with it. This would mean that no bourgeois could write anything in favor of socialism. Thus, all such writers were anxious to prove they were proletarians. It might be appropriate to mention at this time also that the ancestor of French socialism, Saint-Simon, was a descendant of a famous family of dukes and counts.
It is simply not true that inventions develop because people search for practical purposes and not for truths.
When Marx published his writings, German thought was dominated by George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel [1770–1831], professor at the University of Berlin. Hegel had developed the doctrine of the philosophical evolution of history. In some respect his ideas were different from, even the very opposite to, those of Marx. Hegel was the man who destroyed German thinking and German philosophy for more than a century, at least. He found a warning in Immanuel Kant [1724–1804] who said the philosophy of history can only be written by a man who has the courage to pretend that he sees the world with the eyes of God. Hegel believed he had the “eyes of God,” that he knew the end of history, that he knew the plans of God. He said Geist (mind) develops itself and manifests itself in the course of historical evolution. Therefore, the course of history is inevitably progress from less satisfactory to more satisfactory conditions.
In 1825, Hegel said that we have reached a wonderful state of affairs. He considered the Prussian kingdom of Friedrich Wilhelm III [1770–1840] and the Prussian Union Church as the perfection of secular and spiritual government. Marx said, as Hegel had, that there was history in the past, but there will be no history anymore when we have reached a state that is satisfactory. Thus, Marx adopted the Hegelian system, although he used material productive forces instead of Geist. Material productive forces go through various stages. The present stage is very bad, but there is one thing in its favor—it is the necessary preliminary stage for the appearance of the perfect state of socialism. And socialism is just around the corner.
Hegel was called the philosopher of Prussian absolutism. He died in 1831. His school thought in terms of left and right wings. (The left didn’t like the Prussian government and the Prussian Union Church.) This distinction between the left and the right has existed since then. In the French Parliament, those who didn’t like the king’s government were seated on the left side of the assembly hall. Today no one wants to sit on the right.
Originally, i.e., before Karl Marx, the term “right” meant the supporters of representative government and civil liberties, as opposed to the “left” who favored royal absolutism and the absence of civil rights. The appearance of socialist ideas changed the meaning of these terms. Some of the “left” have been outspoken in expressing their views. For instance, Plato [427–347 BC] was frank in stating that a philosopher shall rule. And Auguste Comte [1798–1857] said that freedom was necessary in the past because it made it possible for him to publish his books, but now that these books have been published there is no longer any need for freedom. And in the same way Etienne Cabet [1788–1856] spoke of three classes of books—the bad books, which should be burned; the intermediate books, which should be amended; and the remaining “good” books. Therefore, there was great confusion as to the civil liberties to be assigned to the citizens of the socialist state. This was because Marxian ideas did not develop in countries which had civil liberties, but in countries in which the people did not have civil liberties.
Nikolai Bukharin [1888–1938], a Communist author who lived in a Communist country, wrote a pamphlet in 1917, in which he said, we asked for freedom of the press, thought, and civil liberties in the past because we were in the opposition and needed these liberties to conquer. Now that we have conquered, there is no longer any need for such civil liberties. [Bukharin was tried and condemned to death in the Moscow Purge Trial of March 1938.] If Mr. Bukharin had been an American Communist, he would probably still be alive and free to write more pamphlets about why freedom is not necessary.
These peculiarities of Marxian philosophy can only be explained by the fact that Marx, although living in Great Britain, was not dealing with conditions in Great Britain, where he felt civil liberties were no longer needed, but with the conditions in Germany, France, Italy, and so on, where civil liberties were still needed. Thus we see that the distinction between right and left, which had meaning in the days of the French Revolution, no longer has any meaning.